Dell Latitude C400

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Very good performance and battery life
  • external modular bay supports a good range of drives.

Cons

  • Lacks IEEE 1394 support
  • wireless 802.11b connectivity costs extra
  • external modular bay is quite bulky.

Dell's sub-2kg ultraportable offering comes from its business-orientated Latitude stable, the new C400 model being based on Intel's latest 0.13-micron Mobile Pentium III Processor-M (MPIII-M). Our review sample was fitted with the top-of-the-range 1.2GHz MPIII-M, supported by a generous 256MB of RAM (expandable to 1GB). As a result, this system isn't exactly cheap at £1,595 (ex. VAT). But, as ever with Dell, you get very good value for your money in terms of features and performance, which is why we've made it the Editors' Choice in this roundup.

When notebooks shrink down to ultraportable size and weight, system design becomes very important, and manufacturers' decisions about what to include on the main unit and what to make an external add-on are crucial to a product's overall appeal. The Latitude C400 has a reasonably attractive rounded metallic-grey case housing a good set of built-in features. The only on-board drive is a 20GB Hitachi Ultra-ATA/100 hard disk with a rotational speed of 4,200rpm -- if you need more capacity, a 30GB drive will cost you an extra £184 (ex. VAT). Removable media drives are accommodated via an external bay that, although quite bulky, does accept Dell's C family modules, which will endear the C400 to corporate buyers who already support Latitudes. Our review unit came with a floppy drive and a 24X CD-ROM drive, but a variety of options are available, including DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives. The modular bay connects to the system unit via a short cable and a proprietary port on the left-hand side of the main system, which weighs 1.7kg -- the full travel weight with the external module and the AC adapter is 2.7kg.

The Latitude C400 isn't overburdened with I/O ports and expansion options, although there should be enough on-board for most people. At the back you'll find serial, VGA, infrared and RJ-45 (Ethernet) ports, plus a 200-pin connector for one of the docking options. The left-hand side carries RJ-11 (modem), USB, microphone and headphone/speaker ports, plus the aforementioned proprietary connector for the external module. Also on the left-hand side is the system's single CardBus-compliant Type II PC Card slot. The right-hand side is where the hard disk lives, and the system's 3,600mAh Li-ion battery slots in at the front, underneath the keyboard. If you need PS/2 and parallel ports, you'll need to buy either the port replicator or the docking station, which cost £231 and £414 (ex. VAT) respectively. IEEE 1394 connectivity isn't available at all, while wireless 802.11b networking can be added via a PC Card for £79 (ex. VAT) -- if you want your 802.11b integrated, this will have to be specified at purchase time as it uses the system's Mini-PCI slot.

Like all of the ultraportables in this roundup, the Latitude C400 has a 12.1in. XGA-resolution colour TFT display, and our review sample's screen was as good as any on test. Graphics acceleration is provided by the integrated Intel 830M chipset, which uses up to 32MB of system RAM for graphics. Our review sample was set up for just 1MB of graphics memory, but you can change this via the BIOS if you expect to be handling more demanding tasks. The 85-key keyboard is reasonably spacious and responsive, with 18mm key spacing and 2.7mm travel. At least the PgUp, PgDn, Home and End keys don't have to be accessed via a function-key combination, as happens on some ultraportable layouts.

Given its 1.2GHz processor and 256MB or RAM, it's no surprise to find the Latitude C400 heading up most of the benchmark charts. In fact, it only missed top place in the Business Disk WinMark 99 test, where it came third out of five. Not only is it a good performer, but the C400 is also notable for delivering over three hours of battery life from its 3,600mAh Li-ion battery. At least part of this advantage will be down to the power-savings delivered by the system's 0.13-micron MPIII-M processor.

As with many of Dell's notebooks, the Latitude C400 isn't particularly exciting in terms of design -- although it's certainly an improvement on the bland Inspiron range and earlier Latitude models. However, it's hard to argue with the combination of features and performance on offer. The price may look on the high side, but you get what you pay for.

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